A World Cup title, a Lions series win, a Super Rugby championship. There are some accomplishments in the world of professional rugby that only a minority of players are ever able to achieve.
But there’s another feat that’s even more difficult to realise – one which only a few rugby stars in the past three decades have been able to tick off.
Former Blues and All Blacks wing Joe Rokocoko is one such man.
When EA Sports published the widely revered Rugby 2005 video game over a decade and a half ago, Rokocoko was asked to grace the cover for the New Zealand edition of the game.
It was a request that Rokocoko has admitted seemingly appeared out of the blue – but one that every NZ rugby fan at the time would have understood. After all, Rokocoko was the player that every man, woman and child wanted to buy tickets to see during the winter, and emulate on the touch rugby field in summer.
Rokocoko debuted for the Blues in 2003 as a 21-year-old with zero professional rugby experience. He’d missed out on representing Auckland in the 2002 NPC after breaking an ankle at the Under-21 World Cup held earlier in the year but his prodigious talent and finishing prowess was so evident that Graham Henry – the then-coach of the Blues – brought him straight into the squad.
That season, the Blues were crowned Super 12 champions for the third time since the competition’s inception seven years prior, with Rokocoko starting on the left wing in the grand final. That same year, he earned a call up to the All Blacks and played in 23 tests over his first two campaigns with the New Zealand national side – scoring 27 tries in the process.
All in all, it’s clear to see why Rokocoko made for a good candidate to feature on the Rugby 2005 cover.
“My sons were actually just talking about it the other day,” Rokocoko told RugbyPass. “They saw a soccer player – I can’t remember who, probably Ronaldo – on the cover of one of the old FIFA games. They asked if I’d ever been on a cover like that and I started to say no but then I remembered that I had been, back in the day.”
“That opportunity came about this randomly because I hardly played video games. I’m not much of a gamer myself. I think the only time I played that game too was the time they launched it.”
Rokocoko didn’t accept the offer to feature immediately, however – he’d heard of the superstitions around sports stars featuring on game covers.
“You had these conspiracies about all the jinx of being on the cover of a game, being useless as the following year,” he recalled.
"He’d raise his eyebrows, he’d do the old look and you’d know something was coming. He’d just tell you to be ready."
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 3, 2020
No such curse befell the ‘Rocket Man’, however, with the native Fijian again finding himself in hot form in 2005 – though he was competing with the likes of Doug Howlett, Rico Gear and Sitiveni Sivivatu for minutes with the All Blacks.
Rokocoko admitted that, like many of his fellow Fijians, he prefers blending in as opposed to standing out.
“It was quite strange but I think my boys have had more fun with it than I did. They really like the whole big out-there kind of stuff but I’m more laid back, stay in the background. It was quite different for me, and I guess it’s quite an honour to be a part of that.
“At least I would never have had to finish my career playing that game, I could go for years and years. And at least my player rating is good!”
Rokocoko left New Zealand at the end of 2011 and managed eight more years of playing professional rugby in France. He retired from the game at the end of the 2019 season.
New Zealand players that have appeared on rugby video game covers:
Jonah Lomu Rugby – Jonah Lomu
EA Rugby – Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen, Josh Kronfeld
EA Rugby 2004 – Carlos Spencer, Ma’a Nonu and Richie McCaw
EA Rugby 2005 – Joe Rokocoko
EA Rugby 06 – Dan Carter
EA Rugby 08 – Richie McCaw
Rugby Challenge – Kieran Read, Mils Muliaina, Sonny Bill Williams
Rugby Challenge 2 – Israel Dagg, Liam Messam, Julian Savea
Rugby Challenge 3 – Ben Smith, Brodie Retallick, Julian Savea
Rugby Challenge 4 – Ardie Savea, Beauden Barrett, Richie Mo’unga
Rugby 18 – Dan Carter
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